Several years ago, I watched a 9-11 ad campaign, “I am an American.” I remember thinking, “this is my country.” I grew up proud to be a part of such a great nation. The land of opportunity. The land of the free. The place where anything is possible. In my world, the American Dream was always something of hope–for all. To me, the people in this commercial represented the country that I was so proud of.
I was raised to respect good, hard working people. I was taught to work hard. My mom always said to me, ‘You can do anything you want in life as long as you work hard.” She also told me to love all people and that anyone can achieve anything with hard work. All of these things, I still believe are true. It was an equality mentality that I still believe today.
It’s kind. Really, it is.
But valuing people sees more than that.
Years, experience, and global travel taught me that the idea that the “I am an American” campaign represents is a beautiful dream. It’s not more. It’s not less.
Separate but equal–have you ever heard this term?
When slavery was deemed unconstitutional in the late 1800s, the Jim Crow Law was put into effect. This law was designed to create separation and division. “From the late 1870s, Southern state legislatures […] passed laws requiring the separation of whites from ‘persons of colour’ in public transportation and schools. Generally, anyone of ascertainable or strongly suspected black ancestry in any degree was for that purpose a ‘person of colour’ […] The segregation principle was extended to parks, cemeteries, theatres, and restaurants in an effort to prevent any contact between blacks and whites as equals.”
This law continued until the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Those born in 1964 turned 52 this year. Those that graduated from high school during this year are about 70 years old.
This leaves our generation of white Americans born to a culture telling us from birth that great progression has happened because segregation is no longer a concern.
The prior generations believed that America made great social and moral progress because slavery is no longer an issue.
It’s kind. Really, it is. But valuing people demands more than that.
What we have now is a generation of complacent white Americans. We’ve been told that the Civil Rights Act was a great movement. Brave people fought and loving people responded. We honor all of those that made moves at this time. We pay respect to the movement and congratulate American’s for no longer living “separate but equal.”
Yet, many still hold on to separate but equal attitudes in varying degrees. We have cultures that don’t interact. We have a culture of white supremacy that has evolved but still exists. The evolution of white supremacy allows white people to assume that it not longer a problem.
Slave codes–Black Codes–Jim Crow Law–Civil Rights Act.
Yes, allowing a black person to sit next to me on a bus seems like a major progression from imprisonment, forced slave labor, and physical, emotional, spiritual, mental, and sexual abuse. It is progression.
When my nephew was born, he couldn’t walk, talk, support his own head, or focus his eyes. Now, he’s two, and he has extensively developed. He can run, scream with emotion, dance, laugh, and sing. He can say many simple sentences. It is progression.
But my sister doesn’t say, “He really has improved since birth. Let’s not teach him anything else. Let’s not expect anything else out of him. Let’s use two-word sentences to communicate forever. If he’s forty and breaks down crying in Walmart because he can’t keep a bag of candy, it’s fine. He’s done so well.” That just wouldn’t make sense.
In the same way, racism looks different because it has digressed. Racism has evolved, and racial slurs are ‘kinder’ than they used to be. To say “America, we’re done….” That just doesn’t make sense.
Many people rarely interact with another race at all. If they do, these relationships do not exist outside of work.
White people are offended because they assume the Black Lives Matter Movement means people are saying their life doesn’t matter.
White people post slanderous media reports to prove that a person’s death is valid.
There are white parents who don’t want their children in interracial relationships.
White people judge & refuse service to black people that don’t fit into their standard dress code.
White people are silent when people are dying. White people think it’s okay to be silent when people are dying until a white person dies in the process–then it’s time to speak up.
White people post passive aggressive bible verses or quotes that are widely accepted by all.
White people that speak out about racial injustice feel nervous and are criticized by other white people.
White people that speak out question themselves. They ask themselves, “Am I being too passionate?”
America has progressed. We can find joy in that. But America is not done learning. Americans need to expect more out of each other. We can’t stop because we’ve ‘done so well.’ We are still developing.
According to Piaget, there is a stage of development in which children begin to understand object permanence. This stage of development happens over two to three years. Object permanence is the understanding that objects continue to exist even when they can not be observed through the five senses. I believe that white Americans are at this stage of the development process. In the early stages of development when a baby can no longer see or feel an object, it does not exist. Similarly, thousands are people are conveying that racism is an issue, yet many white Americans are essentially saying, “If I don’t see it, it doesn’t exist.” Might I suggest that just because you don’t experience or see the racism, that doesn’t mean it does not exist.
To my fellow white folks, we have to be bigger than any shame or pride we feel. We each need to examine the steps that we need to take to move forward, to continue to progress. We are mending cultural relationships that have a history of pain. If your comments are blaming and hurtful, pause and find a new approach. If we continue to respond in a way that has brought hurt to people, we can’t expect different results. Even a small change of attitude can make a difference. Be quick to listen, and slow to speak. And remember, sometimes it’s not about “me.” We have to be selfless and respond in a positive way because it’s not always about “me.” Every person needs a chance to be heard. Let’s give someone else a chance.
It is time for us to speak up when you see something that is wrong. At the very least, we can withhold judgment and express sorrow and compassion for hurt.
The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. -Martin Luther King Jr.
There comes a time when silence is betrayal. -Martin Luther King Jr.